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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

     

Birth of a Dream Weaver

by
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Birth of a Dream Weaver



Title: Birth of a Dream Weaver
Author: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2016
Length: 228 pages
Availability: Birth of a Dream Weaver - US
Birth of a Dream Weaver - UK
Birth of a Dream Weaver - Canada
Geburt eines Traumwebers - Deutschland
  • A Writer's Awakening

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Our Assessment:

B : fine glimpse of author's college years, in interesting times

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 22/10/2016 .
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/10/2016 Michela Wrong
TLS . 3/3/2017 Noo Saro-Wiwa
The Washington Post A+ 22/11/2016 Chandrahas Choudhury


  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr Ngugiís unstated goal throughout this book is reclamation, not just of the Land and Freedom Army, but of much of the colonial endeavour in east Africa." - The Economist

  • "This is an angry book, peppered with memories of slights, insults and arguments that may date back more than half a century but clearly have lost none of their bite." - Michela Wrong, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It is these frank admissions that make Birth of a Dream Weaver refreshing and intriguing, all the more so through its mixture of social history, politics and literature." - Noo Saro-Wiwa, Times Literary Supplement

  • "A swift-moving portrait of the artist as a young man, it describes the profound ripening of his artistic and moral consciousness. Indeed, itís a book that should be read by any young person contemplating a degree in the humanities. But for the full force of its majestic revelations and wrenching insights about selfhood, literature, history and politics, one should give a whole weekend to Ngugi and read its prequels first. (...) Every page ripples with a contagious faith in education and in the power of literature to shape the imagination and scour the conscience. Indeed, itís hard to think of another living writer today -- Orhan Pamuk, perhaps -- who speaks so inspiringly and convincingly about the value of literature. No serious reader will want to miss this riveting story of how a herdsboy and child laborer "became a weaver of dreams."" - Chandrahas Choudhury, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Birth of a Dream Weaver is the third in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's ongoing autobiographical series, this installment chronicling his college-years. Both for East Africa, and for him personally, this was a time of great transitions and change, with him already noting a fundamental one in his brief Prologue-paragraph and then repeating it in slightly different words near the close of the book:

I entered Makerere in the 1959 academic year, a colonial subject, and left in 1964, a citizen of an independent Kenya. In those few years a writer was born.
       Ngũgĩ attended Makerere University College, the leading university in East Africa at the time, and for almost another decade, until Idi Amin ruined it (among much else). It was a new environment for Ngũgĩ -- in a new country too, as he moved from the British colony of Kenya to the protectorate of Uganda, a significant difference:
(M)ine was a wounded land, while Uganda, though exploited, had not been wounded by white settlerdom.
       Conditions in Kenya were also more difficult at the time because of the armed resistance of the LFA (Land Freedom Army; the 'Mau Mau', as the British termed it) and the British crack-downs in response; "I am leaving the colonial Kenya of terror and uncertainty", Ngũgĩ writes of his 1959 departure. The uncertainties he finds in Uganda tend to the more familiar college-age concerns, and only rarely is there anything approaching the fears he faced in Kenya (though the very occasional uncomfortable situations do flare up, as even here the racial harmony (including with the significant Indian population) isn't as deeply and securely rooted as one would like to believe). Repeated mentions of a lurking Idi Amin -- a military product of the British -- do, however, remind readers that even this idyll was only a temporary and fragile one.
       Ngũgĩ begins his memoir with a disappointment, as he learns a play of his that won a college prize will not enjoy the traditional honor of being staged at the Kampala National Theater as part of the annual nationwide drama festival. The reason is that there is mention of a British officer being involved in a rape -- not so much unthinkable to the powers that still were (surely everyone knew that such -- and worse -- atrocities were commonplace), but certainly unspeakable: "A British officer cannot do a thing like that". It's both disappointing and revealing to young Ngũgĩ, and much of the memoir focuses on this, and then the later triumph, with a more ambitious play, The Black Hermit, that does indeed make it to the national stage -- triumphantly, "a must for the citizens of a new Uganda".
       Coming at the same time as Ngũgĩ learned of the acceptance for publication of his novel, Weep Not, Child, he certainly enjoyed greater literary triumphs than most authors have at that age. But Birth of a Dream Weaver nicely goes behind the scenes -- from the 'putting on a show'-aspect to the typical young-writer's-concerns about his manuscripts -- as well as presenting the more common college-age experiences, as well as his forays into journalism (as he also came to write for a local newspaper).
       Ngũgĩ only discusses some aspects of the education he received, but there are significant insights dropped in along the way, in individual encounters and casual observations. So, for example, he notes that the annoying: "claim to knowledge of the native mind is a thread that runs through much of European writing on Africa, liberal to conservative". And he admits the limitations of his perceptions at the time, wondering now: "what hidden and complex histories my professors may have carried behind the masque of black academic gowns, stern faces, and measured words".
       All in all it is a fairly casual tour, a sketch of a memoir that is informative and revealing, and set in an intellectual hub during a historically significant and turbulent time but still skims more across the surface, and only occasionally probes deeper.
       'Light' in the best possible way, Ngũgĩ's memoir is an easy, quick read, and certainly of considerable interest. It is, however, far from a definitive account of his college years -- even as it suggests that there is more than enough material here that deserves closer examination and consideration.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 October 2016

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Links:

Birth of a Dream Weaver: Reviews: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: Other books by Ngugi wa Thiong'o under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Kenyan author (James) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o was born in 1938.

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© 2016-2017 the complete review

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